Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom there lived a family in a small village. It was a rather poor family but they had something better than money – they had love. The family was made up of three boys and a beautiful girl named Anna*… Their father died defending their kingdom in a war. But they had a mother who cared for them and loved them so much. <…>
There is a story behind every child’s arrival in the village, and it usually isn’t a happy one. ‘I remember clearly the day we welcomed Anna* and Maxim* into our family. It was three years ago. Anna was nine and Maxim was eight. Even though the sun shone that day, their eyes were full of uncertainty and fear’ SOS mother, Galina, recalls. Anna and Maxim’s biological mother was unable to care for them and the siblings were placed in a foster home. After five years, the foster parents gave up on them and sent them to a temporary home for orphans. A few months later they moved to the SOS Children’s Village.
‘Maxim blamed himself. He thought he wasn’t good enough for that foster family and that’s why they didn’t want them to stay’ – says Galina. ‘He was angry at himself. When he initially joined the family he didn’t know how to handle these negative feelings and would simply wrap himself in a blanket and lie in bed crying’. Though Anna was just a year older than Maxim, she took her responsibilities towards her brother very seriously. ‘Then, Anna* was very determined, passionate and smart, just as she is now. She grew up too fast and got used to being her brother’s main protector, friend and source of support. She had no choice. I still remember Anna* tightly holding Maxim’s hand when they went for walks together. I remember her reading him stories before going to sleep. At the dinner table she would share her food and sweet stuff with Maxim using encouraging words like: ‘Maxim you need to eat well’. She was always there for him. In fact at that time she was more of a mother to him than a sister’ – says Galina.
<…> One day the Evil Dragon came to the kingdom. The Evil Dragon told the king that he would eat him alive. The king got very scared. He ordered all the mothers and daughters to come to his palace. He wanted to find the most beautiful girls and send them to the Evil Dragon as exchange to save his life. Mothers and their daughters arrived at the palace from all over the kingdom. Anna and her mother were also there. The king gathered them all together in a big room. They were sitting around the big table and the king was picking up the most beautiful girls among them. <…>
“I explained to Maxim that he wasn’t responsible!”
Galina admits that it took a lot of love and patience to get Maxim and Anna to warm up to her. ‘I talked to Maxim; I explained to him over and over again that he wasn’t responsible for what had happened to him and his sister. It was indeed not his fault. Gradually he started opening up to me about his feelings, fears and things that worried him. He started to change. He began noticing that there were other people besides his sister who cared about him. Maxim became friends with his two SOS brothers. I noticed over time that they started to always call each other and go together when they wanted to go out to play football or jump around at the playground. Maxim didn’t look sporty at first sight but when I enrolled him in a sport club, he immediately clicked with the other children there. Though he was slender in stature he had great inner strength and made quick progress in the sports he took part in. He kept growing stronger and with his success in sports his confidence increased as well. He didn’t cry anymore during the night.’
<…> At the end of the ceremony there were only two girls left in the room – Anna and her mother and another girl with her mother. Then the king ordered both mothers to give their daughters to the Evil Dragon. The other mother said: ‘Take my daughter away. I don’t love her anyway’. Anna was scared. She thought that her mother was going to give her away too. But Anna’s mother stood up and said firmly to the king: ‘I will never give any of my children away because I love them!’
For Anna, her first year with the family was quite stormy. ‘At home Anna tried to take the lead role in every situation, especially in everything concerning Maxim. She cherished her role as Maxim’s one and only source of support and saw me as her rival in caring for him. I tried to get closer to Anna but she kept me at a distance. Anna tested to see if I deserved her and Maxim’s trust, if I could be a good mother to them. Tantrums and tears, long talks and mood swings, until finally, hugs and kisses – we have come a long way together. At some point, Anna realized that she and her brother were safe with me, that there was nothing to worry about. This lifted a heavy load of fears and responsibilities off her shoulders and she started to live the life of a child.
One evening when I got to my room, I noticed a handmade booklet under the door. I picked it up and saw a neatly written title ‘Bedtime story by Anna*’.
* The name has been changed for privacy reasons